BECK index

Ancient Egypt

by Sanderson Beck

Old Kingdom
Middle Kingdom
Hyksos Shepherd Kings
New Kingdom Empire
Egypt 1085-323 BC
Early Egyptian Literature
Book of the Dead
Later Egyptian Literature

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Sumer, Babylon, and Hittites

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Long ago the land of Egypt was under the ocean. Then for a time it was a tropical forest, but with the gradual desiccation of Africa this changed to savanna and then to prairie and finally to a desert. During this long process the people living there naturally moved closer to the Nile River until they were congregated within a few miles of its banks or within its Delta, which had spread out before entering the Mediterranean Sea. In contrast to the surrounding desert, this land was quite fertile, supplying them with wild barley, fish, ducks, geese, turtles, crocodiles, hippopotami, and other game animals and plant food.

Their first homes followed the traditional pattern as oval huts made from mud. During the sixth millennium BC they learned how to domesticate wheat, barley, sheep, goats, and cattle. Flax was grown, spun into thread, and woven into linen for clothing. Genetically the ancient Egyptians were a mixture of African, Asian, and Mediterranean peoples. The Egyptian language is of Semitic origin. Houses eventually became rectangular with better-shaped mud bricks. Donkeys were used, and pigs were kept on the Delta. Egyptians are credited with breeding hornless cattle, the greyhound, and were the first to domesticate cats. Boats were used for trading, which enabled them to secure copper and other metals. Their use of flint for blades became very refined. Tools began to include harpoons, hoes, spindles, looms, and drills for hollowing out stone vases. They were religious and supplied food and other items to their dead in their graves.

Many ideas may have been communicated to them through trade routes from Mesopotamia. Evidence definitely indicates that Sumerian seals were adopted by Egyptians. Egyptian art shows a quick development of monumental architecture using bricks in recessed walls of decorative paneling with Sumerian artistic motifs, displaying a hero between two beasts, fabulous animals with intertwined necks, and Mesopotamian boats. Perhaps the most important idea the Egyptians got from the Sumerians was writing. Egyptian hieroglyphics, while a different language, are based on the same principles as Sumerian pictographs, ideograms, and phonograms, both using the rebus principle depicting a syllable to convey additional meaning.

As boats traveled up and down the Nile and populations producing abundant food with irrigation systems increased, the inevitable social complexities developed. In Egypt this was into two states, the lower Delta in the north heralded by a red crown and upper Egypt in the south symbolized by a lily plant and a white crown. The traditional dynasties designated by the Egyptian historian Manetho about 300 BC began about 3100 BC with the first king whom Manetho called Menes. He apparently conquered the south and united Egypt in the central capital of Saqqarah, later named Memphis. Archaeologists have identified Menes with Narmer, who is depicted on a palette triumphing over smaller cowering figures. Narmer holds a mace up and wears the white southern crown. The god Horus is prominently displayed as a falcon above even Narmer.

Menes, who was from Abydos, established Saqqarah in a central location by building a large dam above the site. He also attacked the Nubians in the south and conducted military operations in the east. Diodorus Siculus wrote that Menes taught the people to worship the gods and offer sacrifices, and he supplied them with such luxuries as tables, couches, and costly bedding. Menes was succeeded by Aha, who also fought the Nubians, and the third king, Djer, may have ventured as far to the east as Sinai and to the second cataract in the south. The fifth and last king of the first dynasty, Den, was also active militarily while he regulated the administration of Egypt; he was the first to wear the double crown symbolizing the union of north and south.

Conflicts were apparently solved by the first king of the second dynasty whose name Hetepsekhemui means "the two powers are at peace." This dynasty began about 2890 BC. The fourth king, Peribsen, identified himself with the god Seth instead of Horus. In the past Horus had been associated with the Delta while the Seth cult had been near Nakada of upper Egypt. Peribsen seems to have introduced the Seth cult into the northeastern Delta, and his seals label an animal resembling Seth, Ash, which is the Libyan name for that deity. The enmity between the rival deities Horus and Seth seems to reflect a religious war, for the next king was the warrior Khasekhem, who was loyal to Horus; his stela gives the number of slain Libyans in his conquest of the north as 47,209. After this war he may have changed his name to (or was succeeded by) Khasekhemui Nebuihotpimef, which means "the two powers are arisen, the two lords are at peace in him."1

Meanwhile the Egyptians invented paper from papyrus and were advancing in astronomy, geometry, accounting, surgery, and architecture. During the First Dynasty a king had the floor of his burial pit lined with slabs of cut granite. A king of the Second Dynasty had a complete chamber of his brick tomb constructed from carefully fitted limestone, and according to royal records a temple was built in stone. The mortuary architecture of Egypt was about to astound the world.

Old Kingdom

In the 27th century BC the most prominent king of the Third Dynasty, Djoser, ordered for his tomb the first pyramid built of stone. The architectural genius behind this development, Imhotep, was renowned for his knowledge of healing and had counseled Djoser when the land was suffering from a seven-year famine. They used local limestone and seemed to be building a large structure with stepped-back recesses, when they changed their minds and continued the stepped recesses all the way to the top. Unlike the later massive blocks, the limestone was cut into smaller brick-size pieces. Djoser's successor, Sekhemkhet, started on a pyramid, but it was of lesser quality and was not completed. The last king of the Third Dynasty, Huni, also attempted a pyramid and failed.

However, the great pyramids of the Fourth Dynasty indicate that these kings had gained an unprecedented power and authority over the people, who apparently worshiped the king as a god. Yet they demonstrate not only great loyalty to their king but also the advancing skill of their architects, engineers, artisans, and builders. About 2613 BC the new king Snefru inaugurated the Fourth Dynasty and oversaw the building of two large pyramids, safely constructed with lower angles of incline. Inscriptions claim that he brought back 7,000 captives and 200,000 cattle from Libya, copper from the Sinai, where he defeated the native tribes, and forty vessels of cedar-wood from Byblos in Lebanon. Relying on relatives and devoted officials who worked in his palace, Snefru's administration was highly centralized.

His successor, Khufu, was less liked but autocratically commanded obedience by promising fine tombs for royal family and high officials in a cemetery next to his pyramid at Giza. His administration built the largest pyramid with 2,300,000 blocks averaging two and a half tons each. At 480 feet it is not the highest building ever, but it is the most massive structure ever built. Herodotus, the Greek historian from the 5th century BC, calculated that it must have taken a hundred thousand workers, and he castigated these kings as cruel tyrants. Archaeologists have argued that not that many men could have worked effectively at the same time and that at certain times of the year agricultural workers would have been otherwise unemployed. Nevertheless the crowded mud-brick and thatched barracks of the workers compared to the large and commodious houses of the rich indicate the economic and social injustice of the time. Khufu was followed by the nine-year rule of Redjedef, who may have been a usurper. Then Khafre built another pyramid almost as large and had the famous sphinx carved out of the rock. It is not surprising that both Khufu and Khafre were remembered in tradition as having been hard and difficult.

Menkaure, who succeeded Khafre, is credited by Herodotus with liberating the people from the excessive labor of the great-pyramid builders. He opened the temples, returned to sacrifices, and was so conscientious in administering justice that he gave someone who complained to have been wronged by the king whatever he claimed as recompense. However, he was heart-broken at the death of his only daughter, with whom he may have been in love, and he lavished attention on her mausoleum. His own pyramid was not nearly as large as those of his predecessors and was left unfinished at his death. Deeply religious, Menkaure was disturbed by a prophecy that he should end his life because his five-year term was expired. Pleading that he should be allowed to live longer because he had treated the people better, the priests answered that he had gone against what was supposed to be a 150-year period in which Egypt was to be punished by her kings. Menkaure tried to go on but was only able to extend his term to twelve years. A beautiful slate statue of him standing next to his equally tall queen, who has her arm around him, shows the respect he had for his wife.

After Menkaure the Fourth Dynasty began to disintegrate. Shepseskaf hastily finished and furnished Menkaure's pyramid but only had a rectangular sarcophagus built for himself at Saqqarah. The bridge to the new dynasty seems to have been Queen Khentkaues, whose title means either "king and mother of Upper and Lower Egypt" or "mother of two kings of Upper and Lower Egypt." She was the wife of the first king of the Fifth Dynasty, Userkaf, who adopted the title Son of Re and supported the sun-god cult of Heliopolis. Userkaf's mother was the daughter of Redjedef, and a prophecy had said that Redjedef's son would become high-priest of the sun-god Re at On (Heliopolis). Userkaf and his two sons by Khentkaues all called themselves sons of Re and did make the Re cult dominant in Egypt, building outdoor sun temples with a large obelisk for the worship of Re; their pyramids were of moderate size and fine artistry.

Inscriptions on the funerary monuments of Fifth and Sixth Dynasty kings indicate that they still were engaging in expeditions for natural resources to Libya, Syria, Sinai, Nubia, and to Punt, which may have been in Somalia. The Sed festival was celebrated to renew the king's reign after a number of years, usually thirty, in order to get around the old tradition that the king must die so as not to be weakened by old age. Provincial administrators were gaining power and more independence as the king and his family found theirs decreasing. Papyri from this period reveal detailed administrative records of the temples.

The earliest pyramid texts were inscribed in the pyramid of Unas, the last king of the Fifth Dynasty. They begin with the heavenly goddess Nut reciting words of comfort to the king, such as, "I enfold your beauty within this soul of mine for all life, permanence, dominion and health for the King—may he live forever!"2 Prayers and magical incantations identify the king with Osiris and assure him that he will be well provided with food and everything he needs for his journey to heaven. Osiris is helped up the ladder to heaven by his son Horus and the sun-god Re to awake in the eternal life of Spirit.

Decentralization continued during the Sixth Dynasty which began about 2345 BC with the reign of Teti, whose viziers (prime ministers) Kagemni and Mereruka seemed to have gained unprecedented power judging by their elaborate tombs. Inscribed in a tomb at Abydos is an autobiographical account of Uni, who rose from humble birth to be a minor official under Teti and then a friend of Pepi I, who appointed him judge over cases involving conspiracy in the royal harem. Next Uni was put in command of "an army of many tens of thousands" drawn from all over Egypt and Nubia to oversee towns and villages and foreign lands and prevent quarreling and stealing. Uni boasted of returning in peace after raiding the land of the Sand-dwellers. Five times Uni was sent off for this task; then he went to the Nose of the Gazelle (possibly Mount Carmel) and killed the insurrectionists there. Although Pepi I may have reigned for fifty years, Uni then claimed that he became governor of Upper Egypt in the succeeding reign of Merenre, overseeing the building of five navigable channels in the first cataract to facilitate trade with Nubia and get granite for the royal pyramid. In his first year Merenre even went to the first cataract himself to meet with the Nubian chieftains of the Medjay, Irtje, and Wawat.

Merenre was succeeded by Pepi II as a boy, and he ruled Egypt for more than ninety years. Obviously the tradition of killing aged kings had been overcome. Pepi II's pyramid was about a hundred feet high and similar to the four previous ones, but his long reign was followed by several short reigns with perhaps a woman being the last monarch of the Sixth Dynasty. Royal power waned as the provincial authorities became stronger. The Osiris religion seemed to be replacing the state religion of Re. Ethical awareness of the Sixth Dynasty period is indicated by the following inscription on a tomb:

I have come from my town;
I have descended from my nome;
I have done justice for its lord;
I have satisfied him with what he loves.
I spoke truly; I did right;
I spoke fairly; I repeated fairly;
I seized the right moment,
so as to stand well with people.
I judged between two so as to content them;
I rescued the weak from one stronger than he
as much as was in my power.
I gave bread to the hungry, clothes ...;
I brought the boatless to land.
I buried him who had no son;
I made a boat for him who lacked one.
I respected my father; I pleased my mother;
I raised their children.
So says he whose nickname is Sheshi.3

The Seventh through the Tenth Dynasties are called the First Intermediate Period. So chaotic was this time that Manetho's excerptor Julius Africanus related there were seventy kings in seventy days in the Seventh Dynasty and sixty-five kings in the rest of this period, which lasted only about a century. Although the kings of the Seventh and Eighth Dynasties continued to claim that they were ruling over all of Egypt, in fact their sway was probably feeble beyond their capital at Memphis. For a while a family in Koptos of Upper Egypt claimed the throne. Civil strife is indicated by funerary boats that were depicted with large ox-hide shields over their cabin roofs. A ruler in Asyut had two companies of model warriors put in his grave.

The prophet Nefer-rohu described this civil war in a prophecy of how Amenemhet I, the founder of the Twelfth Dynasty and the Middle Kingdom, will unify Egypt once again. This literary piece is set back in the court of Snefru of the Fourth Dynasty, who willingly listens to the prophecy of Nefer-rohu which describes how Egypt will suffer before Amenemhet I. The Asiatics will move in with strong arms, disturb the harvest, and take away cattle at plowing. The land completely perishes; not even so much dirt as is found under a black fingernail will survive. The sun will be covered and not shine. The rivers run dry, and winds will oppose each other. A foreign bird will be born in the northern marshes, and people will let it approach because of their need. Fish-ponds will be damaged, and the land will be prostrate because of that; the Asiatic enemies, who arose in the east, have come down into Egypt. No protector will listen while the wild beasts drink at the rivers of Egypt.

The land is in disorder and upside-down. Men will take up the weapons of war in confusion. Nefer-rohu prophesies the making of arrows of metal which began in the Eleventh Dynasty. People will beg for the bread of blood and will laugh sick laughter. Death will become so common that people no longer weep nor fast in mourning. People turn their backs while one man kills another. Sons and brothers are enemies, and a man kills his own father. Everyone is saying, "Love me!" but everything good has disappeared. People's property is taken from them and given to outsiders. Citizens are treated as hateful in order to silence people. If someone answers a statement, an arm goes out with a stick; and men say, "Kill him!"

As the land becomes poorer, its administrators increase, and taxes are heavy. Re rarely shines on people. Situations are reversed: the weak now have arms; men salute the one who before saluted. The undermost are now on top. People live in the city of the dead. The poor man is wealthy; paupers eat the sacred bread. The Heliopolitan nome, birthplace of all the gods, will no longer exist. Then a king from the south will come, Ameni the triumphant, who will wear the white and red crowns of upper and lower Egypt. The evil and rebellious will subdue their speech out of fear of him; the Asiatics will fall to his sword, the Libyans to his flame. The Asiatics will no longer be allowed to come into Egypt. Justice will come, as wrongdoing is cast out.

Amidst this chaos a powerful family arose in the Faiyum at Heracleopolis to rule the central portion of Egypt as the Ninth and Tenth Dynasties for about a century which stimulated classical Egyptian literature. Manetho mentioned only the first king Achthoes, whom he described as behaving more cruelly than his predecessors and doing evil to the Egyptian people until he went mad and was killed by a crocodile. King Neferkare had to capitulate after a battle with the Thebans, and the Ninth Dynasty came to an end shortly after the Theban revolution of 2133 BC that established their independence under Mentuhotep I, founder of the Eleventh Dynasty.

Meanwhile the second king of the Tenth Dynasty, Wahkare Achthoes III, managed to coexist with the Asiatics on the eastern Delta. Since Thebes was advancing in the south, with his ally Asyut he attacked them at This, capturing them "like a cloudburst;" but he regretted allowing his troops to plunder the sacred tombs. Later the Theban King Inyotef II came back and drove the Heracleopolitans out of the Thinite Nome. After this, peace lasted for several decades as Wahkare reigned nearly half a century.

From this transitional period comes the instructions for Merikare as though written by his father, the king, warning him that a quarrelsome man causes unrest and factions among the young; he suggested that such be suppressed as an enemy. A good disposition is a blessing. He recommended his son be a craftsman of speech, for the tongue is more powerful than fighting, suggesting he read and copy knowledge. Do not be evil; being kind is good. Work for the future. He should reward his counselors, for the wealthy are not partial, while the poor are easily bribed. If he speaks the truth in his house and is upright, those outside will be inspired by fear. Do right; calm the sad; oppress no widow; do not take away the possessions of someone's father. Be careful not to punish wrongly, and do not punish by death but with beatings and imprisonment. Do not kill one whom he knew well in school, for the soul may come back to haunt him.

In the text he warned his son Merikare that his actions will be judged after death. Life is short compared to eternity; those who reach the next existence without wrongdoing will be like a god. Raise the young troops well and reward them based on their merits, not on their birth. He suggested the prince be lenient and stand well with the Southern Land; accept whatever grain they can give. The king claimed he pacified the Delta so that their tribute of products was assured. He explained that it was the civil war that allowed the Asiatics to come into Egypt. He lamented the hacking up of graves; for after he learned of it, he felt its recompense. More acceptable is the virtue of a just heart than the ox of the wicked. Thus he admonished his son to give his love to the whole world and have the remembrance of good character. From this time of suffering some wisdom was emerging, which shall be examined further below.

The uneasy truce between Heracleopolis and Thebes may have prevented cooperation on irrigation, because this time is known for its shortages and famines. With the death of King Merikare about 2040 BC the Theban king Mentuhotep II invaded successfully and was credited as being the second unifier of the north and south in Egyptian history and the inaugurator of the Middle Kingdom.

Middle Kingdom

Mentuhotep II undertook extensive building of mortuary temples in Upper Egypt and sent off expeditions to Nubia, Libya, Syria, and Sinai for materials and men. He boasted of dominating the "nine peoples of the bow," Egypt's traditional enemies, by "clubbing the eastern lands, striking down the hill-countries, trampling the deserts, enslaving the Nubians,... Medjay and Wawat, the Libyans,"4 etc. Mentuhotep II is depicted striking down an aristocratic Egyptian along with a Nubian, an Asiatic, and a Libyan, who represent the foreign auxiliaries of the Heracleopolitan armies. In establishing order throughout Egypt the process of recentralizaton had begun, and Thebans now dominated the administration.

Succeeding his father in 2009 BC, Mentuhotep III organized an expedition of three thousand men to travel east from Koptos to re-establish trade with Punt via the Red Sea. After twelve years he was succeeded by the brief reign of Mentuhotep IV. His vizier led another expedition of some ten thousand men to the Red Sea and miraculously found the stone for the sarcophagus where a gazelle had dropped her young. Eight days later a rainstorm revealed an excellent well. This vizier, who claimed to have been overseeing everything in the land, established himself as the next king, Amenemhet I, founder of the Twelfth Dynasty.

The establishment of Amenemhet I was justified as fulfilling the prophecy of a king arising in the south who would end the chaos with a great new era. As his name indicates, he promoted the worship of the god Amen, which means "hidden." This invisible god eventually attained widespread dominion in Egypt and is probably the origin of the word still used for ending prayers. Amenemhet moved the capital closer to the north near Memphis, where he and his successor, Sesostris I, built their pyramids. The chiefs of the local nomes were restored to their powers and privileges, their districts being clearly defined along with their share of Nile water. Nomes were required to provide militia and workers when needed. One such military adventure was to re-establish control of the upper Nile and lower Nubia. Asiatic nomads were also driven out of the eastern Delta, and fortified posts were built to keep them out.

After ruling twenty years about 1972 BC Amenemhet I made his son Sesostris co-regent, and for ten years they ruled together, a policy making a stable succession much more likely. They pushed back the northern border to the second cataract and built a fort there. Sesostris also fought the Libyans. While this son was in Libya, Amenemhet was probably assassinated at night by conspiring eunuchs. A mysterious document, claiming to be his instructions to his son after he died, describes the attack. He warned his son to be on his guard against subordinates; trust neither brother nor friend. He gave to the poor and nourished the orphan, but one who ate his food disdained him. A conspiracy in the palace attacked him while he was in bed, and alone he could not fight them off. He wondered if they had not heard that he was already resigning power to his son Sesostris. He then recounted his reign and how he fought to extend the borders, supplied everyone with food and drink, overcame Nubians and Bedouins, and adorned a house with precious metals.

Sesostris I wasted no time in returning to strengthen his rule, and he extended his territory even farther south in Nubia, where gold was being mined for Egypt. Sesostris continued to mine and build, including towering granite obelisks at the Re-Atum temple at Heliopolis used during his Sed festival. At Karnak the god Amen-Re was honored with large structures. Sesostris himself was regarded as a god, and once again the power of the kings increased. He ruled for thirty-five years after his father's death and brought in his own son, Amenemhet II, as co-regent for his last two years. Amenemhet II and Sesostris II increased Egyptian prosperity by reclaiming land for agriculture in the Faiyum depression with surplus Nile water. More Asiatics immigrated into Egypt to work as servants, and trade was established as far away as Crete and Babylon.

About 1878 BC Sesostris III became king and somehow managed to centralize power administered over the regions of Lower, Middle, and Upper Egypt by three officers, who were under the vizier just like the departments of justice, agriculture, labor, and the treasury. The decreased power of the nobles allowed a larger middle class of craftsmen, traders, and farmers to develop. Concerned about the Nubians, he had a channel excavated through the first cataract to sail his warships through to attack the "wretched Kush." Eight years later he returned to devastate the Iuntiu of Nubia by wiping out their settlements, carrying off the women, fouling the wells, and burning the grain fields. A chain of eight brick forts was built, and the entrance of Nehesyu (Negroes) was limited to trading and official business.

During his 45-year reign Amenemhet III continued to develop the irrigation systems of Lake Moeris at Faiyum and the mining, which sometimes required smiting the Bedouins of the Sinai and southern Palestine. This long period of prosperity attracted more immigrants. Amenemhet IV ruled only nine years and was followed by his sister Sebeknefru, whose reign was less than four years. Like the woman who had ruled before her, she was the last of a dynasty. The demise of the Middle Kingdom was about 1786 BC, followed by a series of kings, who reigned for less than three years each while most of the power was in the hands of the vizier.

The decline of the Middle Kingdom was foreshadowed in the execration texts. These were magical spells inscribed on pottery that was then smashed, expressing curses on all enemies, real and potential. These included foreign rulers of Jerusalem and Byblos as well as other Asiatics, members of Egyptian royal families, and anyone who might rebel or fight or talk of rebelling or fighting. While strong viziers like Ankhu ruled during the series of short reigns of the Thirteenth Dynasty, the bureaucracy that had replaced local rule seemed to disintegrate. In the western Delta a new line of petty rulers sprung up in Xois identified as the Fourteenth Dynasty of Manetho. Increasing numbers of Asiatics were hired as servants.

Hyksos Shepherd Kings

In the eastern Delta, which is the primary grazing land in Egypt, the number of Asiatic Bedouins and shepherds had been steadily increasing. By 1720 BC this pastoral people had taken control of Avaris and established it as the capital for what became the Fifteenth Dynasty of the Hyksos, the shepherd kings. Hyksos power spread gradually, and in 1674 BC they took over Memphis and ruled most of northern and central Egypt for about a century. Thebes and Nubia in the south had their own kings, and they all seemed to coexist.

Nevertheless in most of Egypt a major revolution had occurred which may have been helped by the more advanced instruments of war the Hyksos brought, such as horses and chariots, body armor, improved swords and daggers, and a much more powerful composite bow. Eventually these new weapons were assimilated by the Egyptians and turned back against their conquerors. Although the Hyksos takeover does not seem to have been a sudden invasion, it was a social revolution by often despised foreigners.

This turmoil is described in "The Admonitions of a Prophet" by Ipuwer, which was once thought to be from the first intermediate period after the Old Kingdom. However, recent scholarship indicates that this more likely described this second intermediate period.5 This priest lamented the chaos that had come upon Egypt. Workers refuse to carry their loads; bird catchers are ready for battle; farmers carry shields; a man considers his son an enemy. The virtuous mourn because strangers have become Egyptians everywhere.

Wrongdoing and plunder are everywhere. Poor men have become suddenly rich. The heart is violent, and plague stalks the land. Women are barren, and children are left to die because of lack of food. Embalming has ceased, as the dead are thrown in the river. Every town has decided to drive out the powerful. Like a potter's wheel, revolution is turning all things. Rivers are bloody and people thirsty. The southern land of Upper Egypt has become separated, and no longer does tax come in from there. Foreigners have spread throughout the land; homes are destroyed, and the lady is now hungry and in rags like a handmaid. The wood, gold, and other material that was imported for handicrafts are no more. The Delta and its crafts have been taken over by strangers. Everything is going to ruin; laughter has been replaced by grief.

Magistrates are hungry and in need; judicial writings and lists from public offices are taken away. Serfs are now masters of serfs. The secrets of embalming and magic spells have been given out. The king has been taken away and kingship in the land despoiled; officers are driven out. The land is full of confederates robbing goods. Travelers are ambushed on the road. No fruit or herbs are left even for the birds, and people eat the swine food. Cattle and geese are being slaughtered by butchers, who never did so. Those who were poor are now wealthy and vice versa. The Delta weeps; the king's storehouse is for everyone; and the palace does not get what it is due. At one point this prophet asked that the enemies of the noble residence be destroyed, but none are found to stand and protect Egypt. Near the end he hoped that perhaps the Negroes and the southerners will do so, but all the foreign countries are afraid of the Bedouins.

Obviously this piece is the view of a priest in the establishment that has been thrown out of power, and we have no surviving literature representing the Hyksos point of view. Therefore it is difficult to judge this revolution from such a one-sided perspective. Generally the Hyksos seem to have assimilated themselves as Egyptians, but they were later driven out and chastised by Egyptian propaganda.

Although a revolution occurred, the Hyksos kings were tolerant of Egyptian customs and religion even as they were taking them over. They adopted the Egyptian Seth as their god in Avaris and found in him many characteristics similar to their god Baal. The Hyksos traded widely, and the name of their King Khayan has been found in Knossos, Palestine, and Baghdad. Eventually a quarrel occurred between the Hyksos king Apopi and the Seventeenth-Dynasty Theban king Seqenenre, whose mummy indicates a violent death.

The last king of the Seventeenth Dynasty, Kamose, wanted to attack the Hyksos, but his courtiers argued for the status quo which allowed them to farm unmolested and graze their cattle in the Delta. In a stela Kamose promised to destroy the towns that gave themselves over to serving the Asiatics, and he began by attacking with Medjay troops the southern Hyksos garrison at Nefrusy. Having intercepted a message from the Hyksos to the Kush asking for an alliance, Kamose took over the oases controlling the desert route to the south.

New Kingdom Empire

The expulsion of the Hyksos, however, was accomplished by Kamose's younger brother Ahmose, who for this is honored as the founder of the Eighteenth Dynasty and the New Kingdom. The forces of Ahmose were able to sack Avaris. Soldiers, who proved they had killed enemies by bringing back their hands, were rewarded with gold, land, and captives as personal slaves, fostering a military aristocracy. After driving the Hyksos off of Egyptian land, the Asiatics were besieged at Sharuhen in southern Palestine for three years, and then additional campaigns were made by Ahmose in Nubia to replace the Kush as the power receiving tribute.

After conquering the Kush, Ahmose had to return twice to put down insurrections. The women in the family of Ahmose had considerable influence, including his grandmother, mother, and his sister Nefertiry, whom he married. The latter two were given the religious office of "God's wife of Amen," beginning the worshiping of queens as divine as well as kings. Much of the wealth from foreign conquests went into the temples of Amen-Re. This policy was continued by Amenhotep I, who became king of Egypt in 1546 BC. Tjuroy, the commandant at Buhen, was made viceroy of Nubia, an office which became a training position for crown princes. Amenhotep abandoned the building of pyramids and was the first to separate the temples from the tombs, and he established the burial site for New Empire rulers in the valley of the kings in western Thebes.

A general, Thutmose I, succeeded to the throne by marrying the royal heiress and God's wife Ahmose. He claimed to have expanded the empire as far as the Euphrates River in campaigning against the Mitanni. After defeating the Nubians he had their chief's body hung head down from the prow of his barge for several months while a cataract channel was repaired on his return to Thebes.

Thutmose II married his half-sister Hatshepsut and began his rule by putting down a rebellion in Nubia, where he had all the males he could find slain; but he only ruled for about eight years before dying of illness in 1504 BC. His son by another woman, Thutmose III, began by serving in the temple of Amen-Re at Karnak and had to share power for 22 years with his stepmother and aunt, Hatshepsut, who though a woman was declared "king" by the oracle of Amen. She oversaw an expedition to Punt which returned with myrrh trees, ebony, ivory, gold, baboons, and leopard-skins. When Hatshepsut died, Thutmose III immediately began "to overthrow that vile enemy and to extend the boundaries of Egypt in accordance with the command of his father Amen-Re"6 by marching out and seizing Gaza.

Thutmose III then personally led his army through the narrow pass of the Carmel mountains to confront the armies of 330 princes gathered at Megiddo. Not expecting him by this dangerous approach, his enemies were surprised by the Egyptians, retreated into a fortress while the Egyptian armies plundered their goods, and finally surrendered after a siege of seven months. Instead of punishing them further, Thutmose made them swear for life they would not rebel against him; then he let them return to their domains by donkey as he took their horses, 1,929 cows, 2,000 goats, 20,500 sheep, and 1,784 slaves. Resident commissioners were set up to collect taxes with administrative headquarters at Gaza. Asiatic princes were taken as hostages to Egypt, where they could be educated in Egyptian culture and return to rule when their fathers died.

In the next seventeen years Thutmose III toured his Asiatic empire in fourteen annual campaigns timed after the Egyptian winter harvest and to take advantage of the summer harvests in Asia; gifts were sent to him from the kings of the Hittites, Assyria, and Babylon. Using ships in his fifth campaign, Thutmose III took control of the Phoenician coastal cities and ordered them to be prepared to supply his troops in his annual campaigns. The next year he overthrew the city of Kadesh in Syria, cut down its groves, and harvested its grain. Following the pharaohs' tradition of hunting, Thutmose bragged about killing 120 elephants in Syria. In his eighth campaign Thutmose crossed the Euphrates River, defeated the Mitanni, and burned their towns. Inscriptions proclaimed that 248 towns had submitted to him. Egypt became opulent not only from the substantial tribute of goods but also from the importation of slave labor, which increased under later pharaohs.

The last few years of Thutmose III's reign were relatively peaceful; but even though he made his son coregent for the last two years of his life, news of his death stimulated northern Palestine and Syria to revolt so that they would not have to pay the annual tribute to Egypt. Amenhotep II led the campaign to confirm Egypt's imperial power and had seven princes' bodies sent back to Egypt and the Sudan as a warning to others. In a later campaign the number of prisoners enslaved was numbered at 89,600. In a procession over five hundred north-Syrian lords were displayed along with nearly a ton of gold and fifty times as much copper. For a time gold was so plentiful that silver was more expensive until Egypt began to import large amounts of silver from the Aegean. Amenhotep II, renowned for his skill and strength in shooting bronze-tipped arrows through copper plates from a moving chariot and for having killed more than a hundred lions, reigned 1450-1425 BC and was succeeded by Thutmose IV, who married a Mitannian princess.

By the fifteenth century BC Egypt had become an empire with a powerful military state. The feudal system had been taken over by the royal administration under viziers for Lower and Upper Egypt, who with the "King's son of Kush" and the high priest of Amen-Re at Karnak were the most powerful officials under the king, sometimes called pharaoh after the name of the palace. These men administered the law or oversaw provincial authorities, who made local decisions. The power of the pharaoh included being commander-in-chief of a large military establishment and overseeing a wealthy and influential religious system not merely as the highest priest but as a god. The army was no longer a hastily gathered militia that rushed out to defend or raid; it was a professional force in two grand divisions in Upper Egypt and the Delta with well regulated commands using tactics.

Everything in the kingdom served the pharaoh and his court. According to the story of Joseph in Genesis, tax comprised one-fifth of all products and was collected as cattle, grain, wine, oil, honey, textiles, and so on as well as in gold and silver. The temples became tremendously wealthy and employed many professional priests and priestesses. The free middle class that was not involved in the temple were obligated to serve in the military. The other two classes were the artisans and the agricultural serfs. Women had the right to own property, to buy and sell, and to testify in court.

Justice depended on the character and wisdom of the viziers as there is no record of any written laws, though they did have the concepts of law and justice. The pharaoh advised his viziers to be impartial and not be angry unjustly. Opportunities for bribes and corruption in this system of rule by men must have been common. Religion also became corrupted as believers were sold scarabs and copies of the Book of the Dead that guaranteed the sins of their hearts would not speak when they were judged after death.

The three divine qualities of the pharaoh were supposed to be authority, perception, and justice, but of course one wonders. What kind of justice is this which puts one man on the top of a great pyramid of people, whose entire lives are used to serve his desires? This monolithic organization of society that garnered and protected wealth by foreign wars and exploitation, not only of Egyptians but of other peoples as well, did not seem to promote a very equal distribution of its benefits. Religion and the fear of judgment after death were also used to bolster the patriarchal system. Yet even when the king was overthrown by a foreign people in the Hyksos period, they had nothing better to put in its place; so they were overthrown themselves. Egypt developed into a great civilization, but from what we know it does not seem to have been a very just or compassionate one. Yet with authoritarianism for centuries it was a stable society that usually provided for the needs of the people, promoted some into a literary culture through education, and allowed people to worship God, look forward to a life after death, and learn from their experiences in this one.

Amenhotep III became pharaoh in 1417 BC at the age of 12. His mother was a commoner, and he married a commoner, the daughter of a chariot commander. He also married and took several foreign princesses into his harem. In his fifth year Kushite rebels were put down, but generally the peaceful empire enabled Amenhotep III to devote his energies to building a huge palace complex at Thebes. Following tradition, he celebrated jubilee festivals in the 30th, 34th, and 37th years of his reign.

Amenhotep IV began breaking tradition by celebrating a jubilee in his third year instead of waiting until his 30th. It soon became clear that this new pharaoh worshiped the sun god as represented by the solar disk Aten. In his fifth year he changed his name to Akhenaten and built a new capital half-way between Thebes and Memphis at (modern-day) El-Amarna called Akhetaten; at the same time work on other temples seems to have been stopped. Although a sun-shade was built for Queen Nefertity, there was no roof so that the divine rays of the sun could be felt directly. An Assyrian king wrote to Akhenaten complaining that his messengers had been kept standing in the sun and could die from the heat. In his "Great Hymn to Aten" Akhenaten claimed to be the only one to know this God. Considering himself an equally divine son of Aten, Akhenaten was to be king on Earth just as his father is king in Heaven. Thus continuing the Egyptian tradition of absolutism, his religious revolution came from the top down, as the pharaoh had the power to make it effective throughout Egypt, at least for a time. Eventually, perhaps near the end of his reign, hieroglyphs of other names for God such as Amen were chiseled out.

Despite his efforts to establish a more universal monotheistic religion, Akhenaten suffered misfortune. His queen Nefertity had six daughters but no sons. A plague was spreading through the empire. In spite of his mystical inclinations, his ethic was only slightly different from other Egyptian kings. Imperialistic policies continued but rather ineptly. Egyptian cities were founded in Nubia, where troublesome Habiru from Damascus could be exiled, and Akhenaten was the first to use Nubians extensively as garrison troops in Asia. He authorized the viceroy of Kush to quell trouble in Akita, where some of the captives were impaled on stakes.

In Asia Akhenaten did not bother to maintain his father's alliance with the Mitannians. His treaty with the Hittites, which he made despite a warning from the king of Cyprus, allowed Hittite King Suppiluliumas to take over Mitanni and move south into Syria and Lebanon. Akhenaten did not send military aid to help rebels who were fighting the Hittites. When the Amorite chief, Aziru, who was called an Habiru by his detractors, advanced on Phoenician cities as far as Ugarit, captured Niy, occupied Tunip despite their pleas for Egyptian help, overthrew the Egyptian governor of Sumur, and killed the Egyptian commissioner Rib-Addi of Byblos, Akhenaten did little more than complain that Aziru did not rebuild the city of Sumur, writing, "You know that the king does not wish to be hard with the land of Canaan."7 Aziru was taken to Akhenaten's court for several years, but he returned to become a vassal of the great Sun King of Khatti, the Hittite capital. In southern Palestine, Aramaean Semites known as Khabiri revolted, and the Egyptian-trained prince in Jerusalem, Abdikhiba, was unable to stop them. Though not a pacifist, Akhenaten did relax the grip of Egypt's military empire in Asia.

After ruling for seventeen years Akhenaten died, and his power passed through the hands of his incestuous family that included Smenkhkare, his son (by a minor wife) and son-in-law, and Tutankhaten, his nephew and son-in-law. (Akhenaten had married his sister and some of his daughters.) The young pharaoh changed his name to Tutankhamen and restored the traditional religion of Amen. In an edict Tutankhamen complained that the temples had fallen into ruin while the land had been struck with catastrophe, because the gods had turned their backs. Even when the army had been dispatched to the Levant, it had no success. The gods no longer answered prayers, and the people's hearts had been weakened. Tutankhamen was guided by the elderly counselor Ay and the general Horemheb, who succeeded him when he died at about the age of nineteen.

Ay died after four years in 1348 BC, and the military leader Horemheb reigned until 1320 BC, making the army so dominant that even priests were chosen from its ranks. However, Horemheb tried to reform a corrupt system. An edict proclaimed harsh punishments for extortion by tax collectors, connivance of royal inspectors, and crimes by soldiers. He sought judges of good character and put the regulations before them and the laws in their journals, warning them against taking bribes. As the traditional religious practices returned, the sun disk (Aten) was reduced to being the body of Re the sun god under the higher power of Amen. Eventually Aten's temples were closed, and the entire city of Akhetaten was torn down. The reign of Akhenaten and the name of his God were obliterated from Egyptian records, and he was referred to as a heretic and even a criminal. Horemheb's tomb indicates that the god Osiris was once again resurrected.

Horemheb chose his general and vizier with a military background similar to his own to succeed him, but the elderly Ramses I died after two years. His son, Seti I, fought to secure the empire in Palestine and held off Libyan threats to the Delta. Seti continued the policy of harsh punishments for crimes and even added the curse that Osiris would pursue violators. He trained his son to be a warrior king, and Ramses II reigned for 66 years (1304-1237 BC).

In the fifth year of his reign Ramses II marched north to confront the Hittites at Kadesh, where at the head of one of the four divisions of his army he walked into a trap. Fighting his way out, Ramses commemorated the battle as a victory both in a report and an epic poem in numerous inscriptions in which he bragged about slaughtering them unceasingly. Hittite King Muwatallis offered a peace, and Ramses' advisors said that reconciliation was no fault if he makes it himself. The Egyptians withdrew, leaving the Hittites still influential in the region. Three years later Ramses was fighting Hittite outposts further south in western Galilee. In the 21st year of Ramses II, Muwatallis died, and his brother Hattusilis III proposed a peace treaty that Ramses accepted. They agreed not to trespass against each other's empires and to fight together against anyone else violating either one. They also agreed to return fugitives to each other's kingdoms on the condition that they not be punished. Then they each called upon their "thousand gods" to witness the treaty.

Thirteen years later greater bonds were forged between the Egyptians and Hittites when Ramses II married the daughter of Hattusilis, and she was soon advanced to the top status of the King's Great Wife. The peace seems to have lasted a long time, as the successor of Ramses II, Merneptah, sent grain to starving Hittites fifty years after the treaty. The Egyptians also tried to extend law to Nubia, where a court of justice was established with the viceroy as chief judge. The priesthood of Amen was growing in power, as the High Priest of Amen under Merneptah was able to install his son as his successor, and the gold of Nubia was now under their control, though administered by the viceroy of Kush. In a brutal Libyan war Merneptah was also fighting off the invading sea peoples; the Egyptians killed 6,000 and captured 9,000.

Captured sea peoples, Libyans, and Bedouins increasingly became part of the Egyptian military. Ramses III (r. 1198-1166 BC) in his fifth and eleventh years also had to repulse Libyans encroaching on the western Delta. With sea peoples attacking from the north and west, the Egyptian empire was getting harder to maintain. The Hittite empire crumbled, and after Ramses III Egypt had only the mines in Sinai to exploit in Asia for a few more years. Records reveal the trial of a failed harem conspiracy that resulted in some of the judges being punished for carousing with the defendants. Without an empire to exploit and with a large and powerful priesthood to support, shortages and inflation damaged the Egyptian economy. Despite the plea of Ramses II, Ramses III imitated the former in tearing down old buildings to use as material in new ones. Temple records under Ramses III counted 107,000 slaves, and temples owned one-seventh of the cultivable land.

Since Moses led his people out of Egypt in the previous century, an account from the reign of Ramses III of workers striking was not the earliest example; but it certainly was well organized. Necropolis workers, two months behind in their pay, sat down in the back of the Temple of Thutmose III. On the third day of the strike they entered the Temple of Ramses II complaining of hunger, thirst, and lack of clothing, demanding that the Mayor of Thebes write to the Pharaoh and the Vizier so that they might live. The treasury was opened, and the previous month's rations were distributed. Still demanding the current month's pay, they went to the Chief of Police, and after eight more days of striking they received that month's rations. Two weeks later when they were not paid on the first of the month, they walked out again, this time warning they could make accusations. Eleven days later the Mayor of Thebes took it upon himself to distribute grain from the Temple of Ramses II, for which he was accused of a crime. No more is known of this incident, but problems of pay in arrears and worker unrest continued. Fifty years later workers had to go directly to the High Priest of Amen.

Dishonesty and corruption permeated the decadent society that had lost much of its innocence and respect for authority. Roving bands of foreigners, who were now probably unpaid mercenary soldiers, terrorized workers so much that work was stopped a large percentage of the time. During the reign of Ramses XI about 1100 BC one of these revolts was against the High Priest of Amen, Amenhotep. So many desperate criminals took to robbing tombs that the added precious metals in the economy substantially reduced the inflated price of grain. Finally the Commander of the Army, Herihor, seized power both from the king and the high priesthood and ruled Upper Egypt, while merchant princes ruled in the north. Herihor was able to pass the power on to his son by making him Commander of the Army.

The difficulty of Egyptian merchants at this time is reflected in the report of Wenamen, who practically became stranded in Byblos because he lost his money. He complained that Egypt used to be supplied regularly with the cedars of Lebanon; but the harbor master pointed out that Egypt used to send them gold and silver. Wenamen offered the usual rationale that the tribute is for the god Amen-Re, and according to his report he eventually got his wood because the god took a possession of a local page, stimulating the harbor master to deal with him.

Egypt 1085-323 BC

The 21st Dynasty reigned from Tanis on the eastern Delta and lost control of Nubia. They managed to stop temple robberies enough to rebury the mummies of the ancient kings. When Israel's King David conquered Edom, the infant crown prince, Hadad, was taken by retainers to the Egyptian court, where he was raised and married to a sister-in-law of the pharaoh. When David died about 970 BC, Hadad and his followers went back to try to regain his kingdom. Egyptian King Siamen invaded the Philistines and took the town of Gezer. Siamen then gave Gezer to Solomon along with his daughter in marriage.

About 945 BC a new dynasty was inaugurated by Shoshenk I, who as chief of the Meshwesh was of Libyan heritage. Shoshenk, however, had worked his way to the top of Egyptian society through marriage alliances and as Commander of the Army. He took over the four top positions in Amen's religious hierarchy at Thebes and reunited Upper and Lower Egypt. Military garrisons headed by Libyans quelled local insurrections. Shoshenk renewed trade with Byblos and Nubia, and he gave sanctuary to Jeroboam in his exile from Solomon's Israel. When King Solomon died about 930 BC, Jeroboam returned to challenge Rehoboam, resulting in a division of the Hebrews into two kingdoms. Five years later Shoshenk used a border incident as a reason to launch an attack on both Judah and Israel; his victories, destruction, and the tribute he carried away caused both kingdoms to prepare themselves better for invasions after he left. A generation later Egyptian forces were defeated by King Asa of Judah.

Shoshenk's and his Libyan successors' appointment of their sons as high priests probably led to Theban resentment and the civil war in the reign of Takelot II about 836 BC. For nearly a century until about 730 BC Thebes had its own dynasty of kings while Libyans ruled on the Delta. When Tefnakhte, a Libyan prince of Sais on the western Delta, tried to gain control over all of Egypt, he was defeated by the Nubian leader of the Kushites, Piye, who was called Piankhi by the Egyptians. Piankhi surrounded Hermopolis, which surrendered after several months of starvation, though Piankhi was more upset that his horses had suffered hunger. Though fortified by Tefnakhte, Memphis was also taken with great slaughter. After another massacre of his garrison at Mesed, Tefnahkte finally swore allegiance to Piankhi, who adopted Egyptian traditions and sold prisoners of war from the north into slavery at Thebes. After Piankhi returned to Kush, Tefnahkte resumed control of the Delta and was succeeded by his son Bocchoris in 720 BC.

Piankhi was succeeded by his brother Shabaka, who burned Bocchoris alive and took control of all of Egypt while also trying to aid the revolts in Palestine and Syria against Assyria; he was succeeded in this effort by Shebitku, a son of Piankhi. In Judah the prophetic voice of Isaiah warned against relying on the Egyptian army, and in 701 BC Assyrian King Sennacherib defeated Shebitku's commander and eventual successor Taharqa and devastated Judah. However, malaria spreading from the Delta killed many of the Assyrian troops before Jerusalem could be taken.

For a while Egypt enjoyed peace and prosperity under the Nubian Taharqa (r. 690-664 BC) until Assyrian King Esarhaddon on his second try defeated Taharqa in 671 BC. Marching back to Egypt two years later, Esarhaddon died; but his son, King Ashurbanipal, defeated Taharqa at Thebes and arrested Delta leaders, who were conspiring with Taharqa, killing some and taking others to Nineveh in chains. There all the princes were executed except Necho (and his son Psamtik), who won over Ashurbanipal and was appointed king of Sais. Guided by a dream, Taharqa's successor Tanutamen tried to claim all of Egypt and killed Necho, but he was defeated in Memphis by Delta princes supporting Assyria. Assyrian troops then plundered the treasures of Thebes.

Psamtik rose from governing the city of Athribis on the Delta for Assyria to become king of Egypt. Using Greek mercenaries and an alliance with King Gyges of Lydia, by 656 BC Psamtik was independent of Assyria and Nubia and mollified the Thebans by accepting pro-Ethiopian religious figures and giving his daughter to the Votaress of Amen; she later succeeded as God's wife of Amen. This Saite dynasty had united Egypt once again. A port for Greek trade was established at Naucratis near Sais, and immigrant Greeks and Phoenicians strengthened the Egyptian navy, while Jews were settling at Elephantine. When Necho succeeded his father Psamtik in 610 BC, he invaded the Philistines punishing Gaza and Askalon, defeated Judah's king Josiah at Megiddo, and reconquered Syria as far as the Euphrates. However, the Egyptian army was routed by the risen Babylonian power under Nebuchadressar in 605 BC at Carchemish. Four more years of fighting followed until Egypt relinquished its Asian empire to Babylon. Necho did order a canal dug from the Nile to the Red Sea.

Psamtik II invaded Nubia with Greek soldiers; but when his successor Apries was defeated by the Greek colony of Cyrene, a civil war broke out. With Cyrenian support Amasis overcame Apries and his Babylonian allies to take the throne of Egypt. Amasis restricted Greek trade to Naucratis, Sais, and Memphis while he made Cyprus pay tribute and provide a base for his navy.

A year after the death of Amasis, Egypt was conquered by the Persian King Cambyses in 525 BC and became a part of the Persian empire for most of the next two centuries. The first satrap of Egypt, Aryandes, sent troops to help the queen of Cyrene, and for issuing a higher standard of currency than the Persian mint he was executed for disloyalty. Cambyses was unpopular with the priests for reducing their revenues; but Darius rebuilt temples and kept the tax burden in Egypt light while he set scholars to codifying the entire history of Egyptian law, restored the schools, improved irrigation, and had a canal built to the Red Sea. Nonetheless an obscure prince named Khabbash revolted and occupied Sais and Memphis in the last year of Darius (486 BC), and the unpopular Xerxes reduced Egypt to the status of a conquered province.

The murder of Xerxes in 465 BC stimulated another revolt, and the Libyan Inaros defeated and killed the satrap Achaemenes, the brother of Xerxes, taking control of the Delta. The Persians called for reinforcements, and Inaros got help from the Athenians, who were fighting Persia at Cyprus. The Persian forces fought off the besiegers of Memphis, and in 454 BC the Egyptians and Athenians were defeated. Inaros was betrayed to the Persians and crucified. Resenting the exclusive Jewish religion at Elephantine, priests of Khnum bribed the Persian commander to destroy the Jewish temple in 410 BC.

Egypt revolted from the Persian empire in 404 BC and eight years later tried to help Sparta in its war against Persia, but its large shipment of grain and supplies fell into enemy hands. After Persia and Sparta agreed to the Peace of Antalcidas in 386 BC, Egypt was attacked by Persia. Egypt enlisted an admiral from Cyprus named Euagorus and the Athenian general Chabrias, but they were overcome by 380 BC. Seven years later Egypt only escaped Persian reoccupation by the timely flooding of the Nile. Finally in 343 BC Persia invaded Egypt with more than 200,000 troops, and the Egyptians surrendered. Ten years later, however, Alexander defeated the Persians at Issus. When he entered Egypt, the Persian satrap surrendered to the young Macedonian conqueror, who was proclaimed pharaoh at Memphis and was greeted by the oracle at Siwa as the son of Amen. Alexander laid plans for a coastal city to be named after himself, appointed native governors, organized taxation under Cleomenes of Naucratis, and appointed Ptolemy military commander, who after Alexander's death in 323 BC became king of Egypt.

Hellenistic Era

Early Egyptian Literature

From the first capital at Memphis, which united Upper and Lower Egypt and was called the balance in which the two lands were weighed, comes a brief creation myth probably from the early part of the Old Kingdom. The greatest god at this time was called Ptah, who brought into being the creator god of the totality, Atum, and transmitted divinity to their souls (ka) through the heart by Horus and through speech by Thoth. Thus God is in every person, god, and animal that lives and controls itself by thinking and commanding whatever one wishes. Atum came into being by the semen and fingers of Ptah; the sun and life-giving moisture came from the pronouncements of his mouth.

The sense of sight, hearing, and smelling report to the heart, which completes thoughts and enables the tongue to announce what the heart thinks. The ka-spirits were made, and everything was provided for by speech. Life was given to those who have peace, and death to those with sin. All actions of the body and crafts were made by what the heart thought and the tongue commanded. After Ptah brought all the gods into being and every good thing in the divine order including cities and shrines, he was satisfied. So all the gods and their souls gathered themselves to him and were content with the Lord of the Two Lands.

The oldest known wisdom literature is a collection of advice attributed to the vizier Ptah-hotep, who served King Issi of the Fifth Dynasty in the 25th century BC. He began by saying to his son that in this instructing of the ignorant about wisdom and good speech it will be advantageous for him to listen and disadvantageous to neglect these teachings. Yet he should not let his heart be puffed up by knowledge or be overly confident. Listen to the ignorant as well as the wise because there is no limit to how much skill may be attained. Good speech is often hidden and may be found even among women working in the mills.

As a leader in commanding he should seek out what is beneficial and avoid wrongdoing, for justice is what is great and enduring. Justice is eternally the same and punishes those who pass beyond its laws. Fraud may gain riches, but the strength of justice lasts and may be considered the inheritance of his father. He advised respect for one greater and acceptance of whatever he may give. Even to stare rudely can be an offense against the soul (ka). Look down, and only laugh when he laughs. In this authoritarian society meekness toward the powerful was recommended. If trusted to carry an errand, be reliable and don't be forgetful. Grasp the truth but don't exceed it. If you knew someone before he became powerful, don't be puffed up but respect him for what he now has. If your son listens and acts well, seek him out for useful actions; but if he goes astray and transgresses, cast him off as no son at all.

When listening to petitions, hear them out even though it might not be granted, for a good hearing soothes the heart. If you want to develop a friendship in a home, beware of approaching the women; for you may be made a fool and attain death through knowing her. Do not be covetous or greedy when things are being divided; or else a calm man becomes contentious. As for a wife, he recommended filling her belly, clothing her back, and prescribed ointment for her body to make her heart glad. In this male-dominated society he considered her "a profitable field for her lord" and warned against contending with her at law or letting her gain control.

Ptah-hotep suggested satisfying your clients with your wealth, for in time of trouble you do not turn to a stranger, indicating perhaps that payoffs were common. If you are a counselor to the lord, look to the good or be silent. If you speak, know how to explain the difficulties. Bow to your superior, for opposition will be painful. Test friends with conversation; but even if he does something you don't like, remember he is still a friend and don't trample on him. If you hear this, it will be well; for hearing is a great advantage of the heart, which is life, property, and health. The properly instructed will stand well with officials, and speech will be guided by what has been said. Obedience is obviously strongly valued, and the obedient son is considered a follower of Horus. Ptah-hotep hoped that his son would also find the king satisfied as he had and would live as long as he, which he claimed was one hundred and ten years.

One story from the Middle Kingdom told how the gods almost destroyed humanity, because they had been plotting against the self-created Re. Re called his own eye and his followers to assemble without humans seeing. The gods said he should send his eye to smite them, and the goddess Hathor went and slew people in the desert. Then Re sent for red ochre and barley to make beer as red as human blood. On the day the goddess was to slay humanity on their southern travels, Re declared the beer good and sent it to flood the fields. The goddess came and drank the beer which pleased her heart, and becoming drunk she could not perceive humanity. Finally the god Re welcomed the goddess in peace.

Another story of possible destruction is a dialog between a man considering suicide and his soul (ba), who seems to be urging him on. However, the soul will not stay with him if he kills himself. The man wants to go be judged by Thoth and Re but wants his soul to make it pleasant for him. The soul replies that he is too attached to good things like one possessing treasures. The man says that he can not go away if his soul remains on the earth. If his soul will listen to him and agree, it will be happy in the West (death) like the soul of one buried in a pyramid. He requests his soul to take care of him in death like a mourning heir would.

The soul replies that after burial the man will not go forth into the sun anymore. The soul advises him to forget his cares and enjoy life. Telling a tale of a humble family eaten by crocodiles, the tragedy of the children not getting a chance to live is apparent. Breaking into poetry, the man laments how his name is abhorred, asking to whom can he speak when evil abounds everywhere, admitting that death appears before him now as a blessing like becoming healthy after illness and going to a world of real justice and knowledge. Finally the soul suggests that his comrade cast aside sorrow; for if he will reject death, his soul will abide with him. When death comes and his body is united with the earth, the soul will be free after that rest. The soul concludes by suggesting they live together.

The most popular literary piece of the Middle Kingdom was probably "The Story of Sinuhe" which told how a henchman of King Amenemhet I flees after his assassination, crosses the Nile in a barge and makes it to Suez before falling down in thirst. He is rescued by a sheikh and goes to Byblos and Kedemi, where he is taken in by a Palestinian prince. In discussing Egypt he assures the prince that the new king will do well; for he has already subdued the foreign lands while his father was in the palace. Sinuhe marries the prince's eldest daughter and is given the best land with figs, vines, honey, oil, barley, wheat, and cattle. He lives there many years as a military captain and tribal ruler, his children also becoming tribal chiefs. When someone comes to challenge him, perhaps resenting that he is a foreigner, Sinuhe slays him in combat and plunders his goods.

Still loyal and thankful to his divine king, he prays to him that he might return to Egypt. King Sesostris hears of his plea and sends Sinuhe a royal decree authorizing his return so that he can be buried honorably in the land of his birth. Sinuhe sends a reply full of praise, asking to come back and explaining that he had not planned his earlier flight. The king sends a ship to bring Sinuhe back, and ushered into the royal presence, he lays on his belly before his majesty. The Queen does not believe that it is Sinuhe, but the King recognizes him, appoints him chamberlain, and provides him with luxuries and the highest honor for an Egyptian, an excellent tomb. This story filled with elegant metaphors affirmed Egyptian values and patriotism.

A similar story of a shipwrecked sailor was also written during the Middle Kingdom. Having set out for the mines of the sovereign, a large ship carrying a hundred and twenty sailors is destroyed in a storm, and he is cast alone on an island, where he finds figs, vines, leeks, fruit, cucumbers, fish, and fowl. Using two sticks for a fire-drill, he kindles a fire to sacrifice to the gods when he sees a huge serpent fifteen meters long overlaid with gold and having eyebrows of lapis lazuli who asks him why he is there. The sailor explains about the ship going to the mines that perished, and the serpent offers him every good thing there on the island until a ship comes to take him back to the royal residence. In gratitude the sailor offers the serpent precious perfumes; but the latter laughs because as prince of Punt he has myrrh and hekenu in abundance. When the ship comes, the serpent gives him numerous treasures that the Egyptians imported from the incense-producing countries. The sailor takes these back to his sovereign, who thanks him and appoints him a henchman. This story expressed the adventures and rewards of foreign trade with Punt.

Another Middle Kingdom story indicates how difficult it could be for a poor person to obtain justice. A peasant packed his asses with food and goods for trade and, leaving his wife, went south to Heracleopolis. A man named Dehutinekht, who worked for one of the vassals of the high steward Rensi, saw the asses and plotted how he could get them. He told his servant to place a sheet across the narrow path between the river and his barley fields so that the asses could not pass without either treading on the clothes or trampling on the barley. When an ass ate some barley, he beat the peasant with a rod and took his asses and would not even let him complain aloud.

After petitioning Dehutinekht for ten days futilely, the peasant went to Heracleopolis to petition the high steward Rensi, who made an accusation against Dehutinekht before his magistrates; but they assumed the peasant had left this master and decided that he should only replace the salts. So the peasant went to Rensi and pleaded for justice, and the steward went to King Nebkaure telling him that an eloquent peasant had been robbed by his subject. The King ordered food to be given to the peasant and his family secretly, because he wanted to hear the peasant's speeches.

The peasant petitioned the steward again, accusing the magistrates and him of wrongdoing when they should right wrongs. In condemning their negligence the peasant waxed rhetorical and came back a third time to complain some more and then a fourth time and a fifth. On the sixth time he said, "The arbitrator is a spoiler. The peacemaker is a maker of sorrow."8 The peasant petitioned and spoke a seventh, eighth, and ninth time, declaring as he left that he intended to petition Anubis next in the world of the dead. Then the steward had him recalled and had all his previous speeches read aloud to the King, who was pleased more than by anything else in the entire country. The King told the peasant he could make his own judgment, and from the concluding fragments it appears he was given the possessions of Dehutinekht.

The story of the magicians was probably written during the Hyksos period, but it was set back in the Old Kingdom of the pyramid builders Khufu and Khafre. Khufu wants to know about the magicians. Prince Khafre's tale is about Ubaoner's wife, who took her pleasure with one of the King's pages in her garden. So Ubaoner made a crocodile of wax seven fingers long, which in the bath of the page became a great crocodile seven cubits long that seized the page. Later Ubaoner presented the crocodile to the King, and it became wax again. The king in the story told the crocodile to take his prey and ordered the wife burned and thrown in the river.

Prince Baufre's tale is about Khufu's father Snefru, who ordered twenty virgins with beautiful limbs, breasts, and hair to be dressed in net and row a boat on the lake, where he could watch. When one of them lost a pendant in the water, she stopped singing, followed by the others. The King ordered his chief scribe Zazamankh to retrieve it, and he used magic to remove all the water from that side of the lake and found it on a potsherd. Then he put the lake waters back.

Prince Hardedef offered to present a magician, who, though one hundred and ten years old, was still alive and could put a head back on that has been cut off. The King said a prisoner should be executed to test this skill, but Djedi said not on a man. So a goose, a duck, and an ox were brought, and Djedi made them walk without their heads by magic. What the King wanted was the designs of Thoth, and Djedi told him they were in a chamber at Heliopolis; but only the eldest of three children in the belly of Ruddedet conceived by Re would bring them. They are born and blessed by gods and goddesses; but the tale is incomplete, although it is apparently intended to explain how the kings of the Fifth Dynasty survived in Khufu's time.

Book of the Dead

Other than the blessing of the Nile water and their control of it, the Egyptian belief in life after death was perhaps the most important part of their culture and probably helped to stabilize their society for so many centuries. The ideas that developed into the book Egyptologists have called The Book of the Dead go back before the beginning of Egyptian civilization and their first historical king Menes. The pyramid texts of the Fifth and Sixth Dynasties were intended to help and guide the king in awakening after death in the next world. In the Middle Kingdom the hieroglyphics were written on the coffins of those who could afford them, and by 1600 BC they were written on rolls of papyrus and could be purchased or written by even more people.

The author is said to be the god Thoth, whom the Greeks identified with Hermes, placing these in the Hermetic or magical writings attributed to thrice-great Hermes. The usual Egyptian name in the Theban period for the book was pert em hru, which has been translated as "coming forth by day" or "coming forth from the day" or "manifested in the light" and was sometimes called "making perfect the blessed dead." I suggest the essence of the meaning might be "awakening in the light."

The book is based on the myth of Osiris, who was assisted in his resurrection by his sister Isis and their son Horus. The king and later any deceased person is identified with Osiris, and the book gives that soul magical incantations to chant after death to be accepted and guided to the blessings of the next world. The doctrine of eternal life is found in the Fifth Dynasty statement that the soul goes to heaven when the body goes to earth, and eternal life is associated with the sun-god Re and is explicitly mentioned in an inscription for Pepi I. In the 84th chapter the deceased is to say, "My soul is divine; my soul is eternal."

The Egyptians had various words to describe the soul and different aspects of consciousness, and it is difficult to know now exactly what they meant. Ba, depicted in hieroglyphics as a bird or a human-headed hawk, is usually translated simply "soul" and meant sublime and noble. It could leave the body at death and revisit the tomb to reanimate the body; it was able to go to heaven and dwell with perfected souls there. Closely associated with the ba was the khu which meant shining or translucent and is usually translated "intelligence." It could also mean spirit, for the khu of the gods lived in heaven, which is where the human khu went after the prayers said for the dead enabled it to do so. More difficult to interpret is the ka, which could mean image, genius, double, character, disposition, or mental attributes. For a long time the term "ghost" might have been used; today we would probably say, "psyche."

The goal for the deceased was to be by the side of God in the most holy place, to become divine and an angel of God, and to be triumphant and have his ka be triumphant. The long and complete papyrus of Ani is from the 15th century BC and represents the royal scribe Ani identifying with Osiris in these post-mortem experiences. In addition to their literary qualities these books contain many drawings in colored ink that are quite artistic depicting the funeral scenes and mythological characters.

The text begins with Osiris Ani praising in a hymn Re as the king and creator of the gods coming forth as a living soul to see to the ka of Osiris, the scribe Ani. He hails the gods of the soul temple who weigh heaven and earth in balance. Witnessing and recording this are Thoth, the messenger of the gods, and Maat, the divine representation of justice. He asks to see Horus with Thoth and Maat guiding his boat to heaven so that his soul may come forth and go wherever it wants. For his ka he asks splendor in heaven, power on earth, and triumph in the next world.

Ani's heart, representing his conscience, is weighed in a balance against a feather, symbolizing justice (Maat). Ani expresses the hope that no sins or lies will speak against him, and Thoth declares that the heart of Osiris has been found true and without evil by trial. Horus then takes Ani to Osiris saying that Thoth has found him true and just, asking for cakes and ale. Ani is speaking to his own ka asking to be favored like Osiris by the beautiful god and lord of the world.

Ani asks that the way be opened to perfected souls in the hall of Osiris so that he may enter with a bold heart and come forth in peace. He aims to avoid the guardian of darkness, who is feared by those who live in crime. A priest dressed in a leopard's skin introduces Ani and his wife to the gods, who have destroyed the fiends of Seth, the rival of Osiris. Through the recitations the deceased may come forth purified after death and escape every fire and foul thing forever.

In giving his heart to Osiris, Ani states that he has gotten mastery over his hands and arms and feet and gained the ability to do whatever his ka wants. He prays that in the next world his soul will enter into his glorified body with hands filled with justice. As the scribe who told of the divine offerings of the gods and oversaw the granary of Abydos, Ani asks to come to the eternal land ordained for him. The title of the 133rd chapter means making perfect the khu (intelligence) in the next world in the presence of the gods. Then his soul is to be transformed, and he prays,

Grant thou that I may pass on my way
with the godlike ones who rise up.
May I be set up upon my resting-place
like unto the Lord of Life;
may I be joined unto Isis, the divine Lady.
May the gods make me strong against him
that would do harm unto me,
and may no one come to see me fall helpless.
May I pass over the paths,
may I come into the furthermost parts of heaven....

I am one of those shining ones who live in rays of light....
I, in very truth I am a shining one and a dweller in light,
who hath been created and who hath come into being
from the body of the god.9

As he rises up he gains mastery to drive back evil, which opposes him, and the gods open to him the holy way. He declares that what his ka abominates has not entered into his body. His soul is god and eternal, the creator of darkness, and he has appointed to it a resting place in the highest heaven. He has done away with his faults. He has come forth to give light in darkness, and lo! it has been made bright.

In the 125th chapter (The chapters are numbered by a different text and therefore are not in sequence in Ani's papyrus.), Ani declares all of the sins he has not committed, including iniquity, violent robbery, murder, theft, fraud, lied, caused pain, fornicated, caused tears, dealt deceitfully, transgressed, acted guilefully, laid waste plowed land, eavesdropped, been angry without just cause, defiled another's wife, polluted himself, caused terror, burned with rage, ignored right and truth, worked grief, acted with insolence, stirred up strife, judged hastily, multiplied words too much, harmed, cursed the king, fouled the water, spoken scornfully, cursed God, stolen, defrauded nor plundered offerings, filched food, sinned against his local god, nor slaughtered with evil intent the god's cattle. This list gives us an idea of the moral values of the time, though a negative confession prepared before death does raise questions of sincerity.

Isis comes to protect him and embrace Osiris Ani, who is triumphant in peace and in right and truth, and Ani declares himself a perfected soul. Finally he concludes with a hymn of praise for Osiris, the God of gods, asking that his ka be able to go into and come forth from the next world.

Though this guidebook to the next life, being based on magic, has many superstitious beliefs such as stating certain words at the gate of each of the various gods in the next world, the hope of a better life after death surely must have motivated most people to strive to be good and conscientious in this life. Realizing perhaps intuitively that eventually they have to atone for whatever sins they may commit, by having a clear conscience they would be able to rise higher to a better existence. This book also shows their belief that they must face death and its judgment themselves and that they will stand or fall by the quality and strength of their own consciousness.

Later Egyptian Literature

Ethical awareness of individual responsibility and justice is expressed in writings from the New Kingdom found at Deir El-Medina. A man, who swore falsely by Ptah, Lord of Maat (Justice, Truth), stated that he was made to see darkness by day and admitted he had been taught a lesson. Another recognized Amen-Re as a god who judges the guilty and does not take bribes, for he speaks to the heart.

The tradition of writing moral instructions was continued in the "Instruction of Any." Any counseled one to guard against fraud and false words and suggested conquering the malice within oneself because a quarrelsome person finds no rest. He advised staying away from hostile people and making friends with the straight and true, whose actions one has seen, so that by matching justice friendship will be balanced. He warned against speaking rudely to a brawler and advised holding yourself back when attacked. This will prove beneficial when relations become friendly and the aggressor desists. Beware of being ruined by the tongue. Choose the good and say it, while leaving the bad shut up in your belly. A rude answer may bring a beating, but those who speak sweetly will be loved. Rather than attacking your attacker, leave him to the god. Don't talk back to an angry superior, but let him have his way. Speaking sweetly when he speaks sourly is the remedy that calms the heart. Fighting answers carry sticks and can collapse your strength.

Do not vex your heart.
He will return to praise you soon,
when his hour of rage has passed.
If your words please the heart,
the heart tends to accept them;
Choose silence for yourself;
submit to what he does.10

The thirty chapters of "The Instruction of Amenemope" come from the Ramses period and seem to have been acknowledged by Solomon's Proverbs when 22:20 refers to the thirty sayings of admonition and knowledge. The prolog begins by describing them as "the teaching for life, the instructions for well-being,"11 giving rules for relations with elders, conduct toward magistrates, and for answering one who speaks or sends a message so as to direct one on the paths of life to prosper on earth; let one's heart enter its shrine and steer clear of evil. Here again one is warned not to raise an outcry when one is attacked, for the one who does evil is rejected by the shore. Leave him in the hands of the god. Don't quarrel with the hot-mouthed nor "needle him with words" but rather pause, bend before an attacker, and sleep on it before speaking. For Amenemope wealth is not a cure-all, and poverty is no shame.

Better is poverty in the hand of the god,
than wealth in the storehouse;
better is bread with a happy heart
than wealth with vexation.
Do not set your heart on wealth;
there is no ignoring Fate and Destiny;
Do not let your heart go straying;
every man comes to his hour.
Do not strain to seek increase;
what you have, let it suffice you.
If riches come to you by theft,
they will not stay the night with you.12

One should not celebrate wealth from theft nor complain of being poor but rather pray to Aten for well-being and health; he will provide the needs of life, and you will be safe from fear. Guard the tongue from harmful speech in order to be loved by others. Do not speak falsely nor sever your heart from your tongue so that all efforts may succeed. God is always perfect, but humans always fail. Human words are one thing, but the actions of the god are another. No one knows the plans of God; so don't weep for tomorrow. One may stay in the arms of God, and silence will overthrow adversaries.

Those learning to write were given texts to copy that extolled the virtues and advantages of being a secretary compared to other occupations, particularly the trials and tribulations of the military. Writing could bring one more immortality than any tomb. Love poems expressed longing for the beloved, often referred to as a brother or sister as a term of endearment. Only sight of the beloved can cure the ailments of the lover.

Several tales of imaginative literature have survived from the New Kingdom. One about a "Doomed Prince" describes how the characters attempt to avoid a fate predicted by the Hathor goddesses that a child would die by means of a crocodile, snake, or dog. The king protected his son's childhood but allowed him to have a greyhound for a pet. The young man asks to be able to go off on his own and wins the hand of a princess in Nahrin. When he tells his wife of his predicted destiny, she wants to kill the greyhound; but he refuses. She tries to protect him, but a crocodile is struggling with a water sprite nearby. One night a snake approaches him, but she kills it, exulting that one of his fates has been overcome. A few days later his dog informs him that he is his fate. So he runs before the dog into the lake, where the crocodile carries him off, saying that though he is his fate; for three months he has been contending with the water sprite and would let him go if the water sprite would fight with him. Ironically the end of the tale is lost, so that we never know whether the prince meets his doomed fate or not. Perhaps this makes the point that we can never know our destiny for sure until it occurs.

The most famous Egyptian tale is of two brothers named after Anubis, the jackal-headed god of the after-life, and Bata, often symbolized as a bull. The older Anubis had a wife and house and allowed his younger brother to live with them. Bata was an excellent worker and served his older brother and his wife well. One day needing seed the older brother sends the younger to town. At home his brother's wife asks him to lay with her, but the younger brother refuses and takes the seed. That evening when the older brother comes home, his wife puts geese fat on her body and pretends she has been assaulted by the younger brother because she refused to lay with him. If the younger brother is allowed to live, she threatens to take her own life.

So the older brother takes his spear to go kill his brother; but a cow warns the herdsman, and he runs away followed by his brother with the spear. Somehow a god places water infested with crocodiles between them. The younger brother shouts that he is going to the Valley of the Pine, calls the wife a slut, and cuts off his phallus; but his brother must come to him when he takes out his heart and puts it on the pine tree. If the pine tree is cut down, he must come searching for the heart. The older brother will know he must do this when a jug of beer ferments in front of him.

Then the younger brother goes to the Valley of the Pine, and the older brother goes home, kills his wife, and mourns his brother. The Nine Gods tell Bata that his brother has killed his wife, and they provide a divine woman as a companion for Bata. However, the seven Goddesses want to execute her with a knife. Bata tells her to stay in the house because, being a female like her, he could not rescue her. One day the pine tree takes a curl from her hair, and the sea takes it to Egypt, where it is put in the Pharaoh's laundry, its scent affecting all his clothes. His advisors track down the curl and lure the divine woman to the court. She tells the king to cut down the pine tree; when they cut off the flower with Bata's heart, he dies instantly.

The next day Anubis finds ferment in his beer, and his wine turns bad. So he goes to the Valley of the Pine and finds his brother lying dead. After searching for his heart for three years, he wants to return to Egypt. Just as he is about to leave, he sees a pine cone with his brother's heart, which he puts in water. Bata revives and drinks the water with the heart. Bata then changes himself into a great bull, which his brother could use to please the Pharaoh. When Bata reveals himself to his wife as a bull, she asks Pharaoh to let her eat the liver of this bull. Pharaoh nevertheless sacrifices the bull. Two drops of its blood grow into great Persea trees. Then Bata speaks to the Lady as the Persea tree, and she demands the trees be cut down for furniture; but she swallows a splinter, making her pregnant. Her son pleases Pharaoh and is appointed Viceroy of Kush and crown prince of Egypt. When the king dies, he becomes Pharaoh for thirty years and is succeeded by his older brother.

This fantastic tale reflects Egyptian belief in the divine that can permeate all of life, which can be redeemed through sacrifice. In accordance with masculine superiority evils seem to be concentrated in the feminine characters even though male sexual exploitation of women and male violence are obviously more common than the reverse. The tale also reflects Egyptian exploitation of cattle and trees and their incense from foreign lands as well as the emasculation of bulls as oxen and perhaps also of priests.

Another story of two brothers is an allegory of truth and falsehood. In this case Truth is blinded because of the lies of his younger brother about a large copper dagger. A woman is attracted to the blind man, who has become doorkeeper of her house; she sleeps with him and has his child, who excels his classmates. Taunted that he has no father, he finds out from his mother that the blind doorkeeper is his father. Discovering who blinded his father, he goes to avenge him. The boy takes a beautiful ox with him, which is appropriated by Falsehood. At a hearing before the Nine Gods the boy claims that his ox is as large as the island, but Falsehood says this is false. Then the boy asks if there is a copper dagger as large as the one he described. Then Falsehood swears that if Truth is found to be alive, he himself should be blinded and assigned to be doorkeeper. When the boy produces his father Truth, Falsehood's oath is fulfilled.

A story of divine rivalry is told of Horus and Seth. With the death of Osiris his office is to go to his son Horus; but Seth, the brother of Osiris, thinks it should go to him. The Nine Gods decide to send to Neith, the Mother of God, to settle this dispute of eighty years, and she says to give the office to Horus; let Seth have Anath and Astarte. The Nine Gods so decide, pleasing Isis, while Seth says he will kill one of them each day. Later Isis enters into disguises and seduces Seth, complaining that a stranger took her cattle from her son when her husband died. Seth asks how can the cattle be given away when the son is alive, and Isis flies off excoriating Seth, who is judged by his own words.

When Horus is given the White Crown, Seth challenges him to transform themselves into hippopotamuses. Isis, fearing Seth has killed Horus, harpoons Horus by mistake and then Seth, but lets her brother go as well. Horus angrily takes his mother's head. Then Seth removes the eyes of Horus, but Hathor heals his eyes with a gazelle's milk. The Nine Gods bring them in again and tell them to stop quarreling. So they celebrate together, and Seth deposits his semen into the hands of Horus. Outraged Isis gets some semen from Horus and puts it on Seth's lettuce; when he eats the lettuce, Seth becomes pregnant. Next Seth claims the kingdom on the grounds that he has performed the work of a man on Horus; but Horus suggests they call forth their semen which reveals his inside Seth. Once again the court decides in favor of Horus.

Seth continues to contend with Horus with boats and harpoons and thinks that he has been vindicated a thousand times. Finally Thoth suggests they send a letter to Osiris, who replies that his son Horus should not be cheated. Horus is crowned in his father's place, and the Nine Gods celebrate in joy. This story affirms the traditional Egyptian religion of Horus as opposed to the less popular Asiatic worship of Seth.

Ancient Israel


1. Egypt of the Pharaohs by Alan Gardiner, p. 417.
2. The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts tr. R. O. Faulkner, p. 2.
3. Ancient Egyptian Literature Volume 1 by Miriam Lichtheim,, p. 17.
4. “The Middle Kingdom” by William C. Hayes in The Cambridge Ancient History 3rd edition, Volume 1 Part 2, p. 480.
5. The Hyksos by John Van Seters, p. 115-120.
6. Egypt of the Pharaohs by Alan Gardiner, p. 189.
7. Akhenaten by Donald B. Redford, p. 201.
8. The Ancient Egyptians ed. Adolf Erman, p. 126.
9. The Egyptian Book of the Dead tr. E. A. Wallis Budge, p. 333.
10. Ancient Egyptian Literature Volume 2 by Miriam Lichtheim,, p. 143.
11. Ibid., p. 148.
12. Ibid., p. 152.

Copyright © 1998-2010 by Sanderson Beck

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MIDEAST & AFRICA 1700-1950

Prehistoric Cultures
Sumer, Babylon, and Hittites
Ancient Egypt
Ancient Israel
Assyrian, Neo-Babylonian, and Persian Empires
Muhammad and Islamic Conquest
Abbasid, Buyid, and Seljuk Empires 750-1095
Islamic Culture 1095-1300
Ottoman and Persian Empires 1300-1700
North Africa to 1700
Sub-Saharan Africa to 1700
Summary and Evaluation

Egypt, Sudan, and Libya 1700-1950

Chronology of Mideast & Africa to 1950
World Chronology
Chronology of Asia & Africa


BECK index